Real Sex Paperback – Feb 1 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Winner, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Girl Meets God, weaves an intriguing tapestry from sociological, autobiographical, pastoral and historical threads. She balances a journalistic report of how difficult chastity is for American Christians; a personal account of how she and her friends have approached premarital and marital sex; a survey of what the Bible, pastors and good Christian books say about the topic; and an overview of how chastity has been understood throughout Christian history. The candor with which Winner writes about sex may alarm some Christian readers, but those who follow her arguments to their conclusions will find themselves rewarded with fresh insights about an overdiscussed but still deeply entrenched problem among Christians. Interestingly, some of Winner's best insights are about married sex. She states early on that "in Christianity's vocabulary the only real sex is the sex that happens in marriage; the faux sex that goes on outside marriage is not really sex at all... [it] is only a distorted image of sex, as Walt Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort is only a simulation of real wilderness." Winner places real sex not in the passionate world of one-night stands and dating relationships, but in the ordinary, domestic life of married couples. As such, she helpfully and perhaps even radically reframes both the Christian and cultural discussion of chastity and sexuality. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Lauren F. Winner (PhD, Columbia University) is the highly acclaimed author of the memoir Girl Meets God. She is assistant professor of Christian spirituality at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, and has written for the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, Publishers Weekly, Christianity Today, and Christian Century. Visit her website at www.laurenwinner.net.
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"Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."
I hung the card on my bulletin board where it was surrounded by drawings from friends, stickers from my favorite bands (The Cranberries, Pearl Jam, and the Smashing Pumpkins to name a few), movie stubs, and pithy quotes from my favorite books (including the Bible). It was a brag board. "Hey, look how cool I am! I have artsy friends and I like alternative music and I'm a Christian at the same time. I'm hardcore. I'm even a virgin." Yes folks, I wore combat boots with my dresses.
Now I'm 27. My music is mainstream (worse yet, I heard Pearl Jam on a classic rock station the other day) and I think the pastel pink purse I'm carrying today officially disqualifies me from anything smacking of hardcore. I still have that True Love Waits card --- I came across it in my parents' basement a couple of years ago --- but my enthusiasm for being a virgin has waned. It's "punk rock" when you're 15 and marriage and sex is on the horizon, just the other side of college (wa-hoo! College!); it's "lite rock" when you're 27 and marriage isn't on the radar, much less the horizon, and college is quickly retreating in the rearview mirror (wa-hoo! Paying off school loans!). And frankly, I'm just not ready to be hanging out with Seals and Croft on a regular basis.
And I'm not alone. I can't think of one girlfriend who hasn't struggled with sexual immorality. We've all made compromises to one extent or another. And we're Christian women. Many of us have degrees from bible school, we grew up in church youth groups, we signed True Love Waits cards for goodness sake!
Part of the problem is that "just wait" becomes a weaker and weaker argument for pre-marital abstinence as one gets older. And a lot of us are getting older before getting married. So, how do you make a compelling case for chastity to adults?
I'm glad you asked.
REAL SEX by Lauren Winner is certainly one way. It offers a theologically grounded understanding of sex and an honest exploration of the merit of chastity when decreed in scripture. And it does so without being glib, sanctimonious, or saying, "just wait."
"Chastity is not always easy or fun. (Once I was standing in front of my car with my then-beau, E. His arms were wrapped around my waist and I kissed his cheek and said, 'So, I think we're doing pretty well on the chastity front, don't you?' and he allowed that yes, he thought so too, and then he grinned in that way he sometimes has and said, 'Maybe too well.') Which is to say that being chaste is sometimes strange, and difficult, and curious. But it is also a discipline, and like any spiritual discipline, it gets easier and better with time," she writes.
With a pastoral sensibility, Winner puts her own "slow conversion to chastity" in the context of sociological, historical, and theological trends and interpretations. The result is a new (or very old, depending on how you look at it) schema through which single Christians can view their sexuality and its ramifications not just for themselves, but also for the body of Christ.
This emphasis on community in relation to sexuality is one of the most radical aspects of REAL SEX. Winner suggests that our sexuality is indeed the "beeswax" of our neighbors. She tells the story of her friend Carrie who was living in a house post-college with six other Christian women. Carrie's boyfriend Thad was living down the street, and even though the two of them were not having sex, they were doing everything but. And the two spent many nights together. Her roommates had no way of knowing whether or not the two were having sex and no one asked, most likely out of fear of seeming noisy or imprudent.
Winner writes: "But the Bible tells us to intrude --- or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what's going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful, goals. But we are called nonetheless to transform seemingly private matters into communal matters. Of course, premarital sexual behavior is just one of many instances of this larger point. Christians also need to speak courageously and transparently, for example, about the seemingly private matters of Christian marriage --- there would be, I suspect, a lot fewer divorces in the church if married Christians exposed their domestic lives, their fights and tensions and squabbles, to loving wisdom, advice, and sometimes rebuke from their community. Christians might claim less credit card debt if small-group members shared their bank account statements with one another. I suspect that if my best friend had permission to scrutinize my Day-timer, I would inhabit time better. Speaking to one another about our sexual selves is just one (admittedly risky) instance of a larger piece of Christian discipleship: being in community with each other."
In many respects, this emphasis on community makes Winner's call to purity more challenging than the True Love Waits pledge. Just as living under grace does in some ways require more of us than living under the law, so too does thinking about sexuality as a conduit for a relationship require more of us than thinking about sex as a purely personal matter.
But REAL SEX offers this challenge with compassion and generosity. Here Winner manages to be open about her own sexual missteps without wearing them like badges of honor. And in doing so, she provides an example of how to live faithfully with past sin --- learning from it without taking pride in it.
And REAL SEX isn't just for singles. I think one of its most helpful observations is the fact that married sex isn't given its proper due; we define good married sex by how well it approximates unmarried sex. Winners suggests that we should view sex more holistically and realize that if sex was indeed created for marriage, then it was created to be shaped and surrounded by the stuff of marriage --- kids, bills, laundry, etc. The occasional weekend at a bed and breakfast or the romantic dinner by candlelight isn't a bad thing, but it shouldn't necessarily consider those opportunities more important than the connection that can take place on a Tuesday night while the spaghetti sauce is simmering.
REAL SEX offers a compelling example of how all of us --- single or married --- can reframe our thoughts on sex and chastity within a more holistically biblical framework. And it does so in an honest, thoughtful way that I hope will help refresh the larger conversation about chastity and sexual fidelity in Christian circles. I highly recommend it to all. As those wise hip-hop sages, Salt-n-Pepa, once rapped, "Let's talk about sex."
--- Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel
Lauren Winner's book is a refreshing change from most of what's out there on sexual ethics. It's grounded in reality -- not merely the pain that attends sexual brokenness but the significant pleasure that usually attends it as well. Winner reveals the Gnostic and romantic undercurrents of most conservative attitudes toward sexual morality, especially in the Church, and articulates an alternative that is faithful to the true nature of our God-given, image-bearing humanity. This is not to say that her conclusions with regard to conduct are not "conservative" -- they are -- yet she comes to them by a thought process that holds up well to both theological reflection and harsh reality.
Especially significant is Winner's emphasis throughout on the importance of community. Ours is a world where sexuality is either held in confidence or broadcast with the expectation of nonjudgmentalism, and Winner sketches out the appealing alternative of a world where our lives are informed by relationships of integrity and authenticity with friends and mentors who love us enough to be straight with us about sex.
I am currently about the business of recommending this book in the highest possible terms to just about everyone I know.
That is, until she began to think more conceptually about the whys behind Christian morality in general, and Christian sexuality in particular. Real Sex is the story of Winner's journey from promoting liberal views on sexuality to apologist for chastity outside of marriage. Smart, funny, and honest, Real Sex has a lot to offer both single and married people alike. Winner is at her best in critiquing both our culture's attitudes toward sex, as well as Gnostic myths the church tends to propagate out of fear and ignorance.
Read this book if you have teenagers, are a college student or young single, are wondering about the Biblical purpose for sex, or are exploring the reasons why sex was made for marriage.
After finishing it, I have mixed feelings about it. There is no doubt that Lauren Winner is a very intelligent and well-read woman and how she came up with all these truths at her tender age I do not know. There are some great points in this book, like that Christian couples are called to "share" with other believers their experiences in marriage and hold them accountable, that married sex isn't always great sex, and that many of us have gone too far and are ashamed of our sexual desires, rather than disciplining them for marriage. I also love how the theme of community comes up frequently. I want to lend this book to my friend for her to read the chapter "Communities of Chastity," which asks and discusses why it seems as if singleness is looked down upon in the church, and then clarifies the special role it plays.
What I didn't really like about the book was its lack of clear organization. I learned some great things from Lauren, I really did, but I'm going to have to rely on my memory to find it in the book, not its chapter titles. She breezes through many important topics in a single chapter, offering us her ideas and opinions of experience, but not a very cohesive and balanced discourse. It has missing parts, I feel, and that is hard to avoid when the topics include premarital and marital sex, dating, marriage and its boredoms, chastity, modesty, birth control, gnosticism, and pornography; books are and should be written, devoted to each of these weighty topics! And concerning the last chapter, which was written as a response to her friend M.'s e-mail, I personally wasn't very satisfied with her ill-matched response to his direct questions. <u>Real Sex</u> is not the ultimate resource for Christians who want the hard truth about sex, marriage and chastity, but it's a decent step in the right direction. (...)
This book is intended for single adults who are struggling with chastity. As a youth director, I thought about sharing this book with my high school students. Many of them are dealing with the same issues and need a book like this one. I would not share this book with middle school students as a group. The discussion is too mature for most 13 year-olds I know.
If you are a single Christian this book is for you. If you are a married Christian in a church with single Christians, this book is for you. If you want to understand why Christians remain chaste outside of marriage, this book is definately for you.
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